Kaplak.com wrecked, blog down

As you will know if you’ve been following my FriendFeed lately, Kaplak.com and all subdomains suffered a a major wreck when the server crashed due to the change of some hardware. What was worse is that the latest backup of the database turned out to be 3 months old :

I’ve now managed to reconstruct the lost articles on the blog – now in a new home at http://blog.kaplak.net (hosted by Slicehost) as well as the lost comments, partly thanks to Google’s cached versions of the articles, partly thanks to Backtype for comments to the latest article which was not cached by Google. Unfortunately Backtype doesn’t carry the accurate timestamp information of posted comments, so the timestamp information on those 6 comments remains permanently lost. But it’s a small price to pay in order to recover almost all Kaplak Blog data.

Over the course of the next half year or so I will begin to redefine the purpose of Kaplak (a process already in the works). To a very large degree I will have my hands full as a teacher of history and media studies – especially as someone learning and aiming to become a good teacher. But for one thing, I still very much want to maintain and improve my web building and web developing skills in my spare time. And for the second, I still want to explore the problem we set out to solve (“helping niche producers have an easier time connecting with their markets”), which in turn have shown to be a wide set of interwoven and ongoing challenges to be worked with continuously rather than just one problem to “solve”. In other words, the Kaplak site will take form and shape again, as we continuously rebuild.

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Taking a Deep Breath

Preparing a battle plan for integrating WordPress µ (or MU) with our network of sites. I will commence the execution of this plan at a non-disclosed time sometime in the near future. The Kaplak Blog and Kaplak Wiki will remain online but the site in our root will be completely removed and therefore unreachable. This in effect terminates the old Kaplak site in favour of a complete WordPress µ install. We will work from there to rebuild the root site with new texts and the subsite network reachable from subdomains to kaplak.com, which will be known as the Kaplak Stream.

I’ve never done an install of WP µ before. I’ve performed lots of installs of web software before, but I have no prior experience with µ. Installing web packages I’ve usually taken the backups I felt were necessry but otherwise simply plunged ahead and learnt from my mistakes. I’ve always learned to prepare mentally for a one way process of steep learning dotted with the occasional tumble, which makes me spend days beforehand searching for other users’ experiences. A little planning and knowing the road ahead doesn’t hurt. So I’ve spent a lot of time these past days reading up on other people’s experiences and problems, to get an idea about what to expect. Unfortunately, what we’re doing with µ doesn’t seem to be the usual thing – so we will no doubt learn things the hard way, either way.

Here’s what the general plan looks like right now :

1. Install WP µ package in our root
2. Create the pages we need to make the root site functionable
3. Create the initial round of subsites we need for archival purposes. Every external service we use will be set up to feed a site of it’s own. I.e. all of our bookmarks will be archived from delicious, all our tweets will be archived from Twitter, and so on.
4. Install and make sure WP-o-matic (or another appropriate automatic RSS feeder) is acting up to speed. WP-o-matic should be fully compatible with WP µ.
5. Feed our archived streams back into one major subsite channel, which will be the Kaplak Stream, as well as to other subsites to which they are of interest.

This completes our first setup and the site is functional. It only starts getting interesting, though. Next, we generate any subsite we wish at a particular time by feeding it the appropriate RSS lumps of interest. For this work we will use Google Reader to begin with, with it’s built-in tagging option, which makes it easy to generate new feeds from existing RSS feeds. Each subsite aims to sell preferably one product only, or a very limited range of products. To begin with, these will be products made available via affiliate programs such as (but not limited to) Amazon Associates, eJunkie and RedAntenna, depending on the product. These sites need not be popular, nor updated or visited frequently, but will seek to stay highly focused on their subject of interest, in order to offer as rich a context as possible when they are visited, commented upon or linked to. This makes it easy and valuable for related sites and communities to tap into these streams, as they build up lasting value.

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Kaplak and The Wiki Way

This video is a few words about our online method and work ethos, which is greatly inspired by what has been coined “the wiki way”, by our friends at About Us, among others (and yet others).

I’ve previously written about Kaplak’s multi-platform strategy and compared our business aspirations to the world of grafitti painting in our local neighbourhood. We want to create a company, which is capable of inviting “tags” and “shouts”, i.e. inputs from outside our company, so that we may, in the process and with time, learn how to do a great “piece”, so to speak. Inviting outside input is more difficult, than one would imagine, as everything in the business world as is, is built around keeping closed circles closed and creating stiff hierarchies, which are detrimental to the very kind of open, global process, we mean to help kick off and participate in. By all means, we want to steer clear of the corporate thickness, which quickly creeps into a company and prevents it from doing bold things.

Thus, we mean the “wiki way” in broader terms, than for just the work of building a wiki. We consider it a way of doing business and a mindset, which we need, in order to maintain a broad online presence over a number of different platforms and web architectures, without being overencumbered by the sheer vastness of what we’re doing – “making the world’s ends meet”, as we say, i.e. making financially viable connections between niche products and global niche markets.

Building and writing a blog sometimes can be like working against the clock. Posts are time-stamped and articles read and digested in the order they are published.

Not so with wikis. They evolve slowly over time, as additions to the wiki accumulate, from vastly different and otherwise territorially and contextually dispersed contributors. A wiki is built from time to time, when there’s something to add. A page can be an inactive dead end for months or even years, and it can see a sudden outburst of activity from one moment to the other, when it finds it’s use in a new context.

We understand and implement our online strategy much in this way. We use web tools and services, when they are useful to us, and we try to add bits and pieces to our network, when we need to. We don’t write blog posts every day, just for the sake of it or just to draw in traffic. However, we do work systematically to find explicit ways to add information or new contacts to our network. Precisely where the activity occurs – whether it happens on Twitter or Friendfeed, or somewhere else – is less important, as long as our pieces and nitbits are closely interlinked, and as long as we can feed stuff from one platform to another. The last thing is a high priority, which is why RSS and widgets are important. But what is even more important, is that in most contexts, not just in our wiki, we invite replies, comments, reactions, input, if just for the rare case, when someone in some unexpected context stumbles upon one of the bits and pieces, which help he or she activate that page and connect with us.

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To Disqus or not to Disqus

The pros and cons of commenting service Disqus

The waters are divided these days on the blog commenting service Disqus, which we’ve also installed here on the Kaplak Blog. Personally I was impressed with it when I first saw it on the How To Split The Atom blog, and decided it could do great work for the Kaplak Blog too. So when we moved the blog, it was a natural step to install their WordPress plugin.

What Disqus does is deliver a cross-blog and cross-platform commenting plugin for blogs, which hosts and connects comments, and feeds them back in different ways to the blogs. There are several great advantages from this ‘fragmentation of blog comments’, and so far about 4000 blogs (according to Disqus) think so too – and there are some apparent drawbacks, at least for time being.

I’ve been trying to gather the pros and cons of Disqus as it looks right now, and ultimately I am pretty undecided. Robin Good, blogger and new media reporter (who, among other things, did a remix of Steal This Film) sums the undecidedness up pretty well in this video :

To sum up as they’ve been put by Robin and others recently :

Pros

  • Users who comment on different blogs can easily find their comments again and organize their discussions.
  • Users are much more able to interact with other bloggers and commenters, independently of the blogs they comment on.
  • Bloggers can easily reply to comments via Disqus email, which saves a lot of ‘logging in/out’ hazzle if you receive many comments.
  • Discussions can be feeded easily from Disqus into other services, such as FriendFeed, drawing other people into following discussions and commenting.

Cons

  • Bloggers potentially lose out on the Google juice provided by comments, while Disqus gets the juice – at least if they use the JavaScript based plugin.
  • Bloggers potentially lose out on the income from ads, if too much commenting activity is moved from “their blog” to Disqus
  • No support for trackbacks or pingbacks, which is a pain, since these play a vital role in the blogging “if I link to you, you link to me too” ecology. Daniel Ha of Disqus says they’re working on something big in this department. One can’t help but wonder, though, if they foresaw what kind of a dealbreaker not including this to begin with could be?

You can find Kaplak’s Disqus Community page here. I’m curious to learn more, as I am still pretty undecided. All things balanced out, for now we keep Disqus on the blog – even though we might use a temporary hack to enable WordPress trackbacks. In my current estimate the social benefits and effects of using Disqus are greater than the Google juice we get from comments (we don’t get a lot of comments yet), although it is a difficult estimate, since we are a young blog and needs to attract readers. I guess it adds up to this : why can’t we have both the Google juice and the trackbacks, as well as the great social functionality and effects that Disqus can give us?

How does the balance look for you and your blog or commenting habits? What are the scores, advantages and benefits? What is the dealbreaker?

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